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Antiques & Collecting: Whatever his birthday, we still honor George Washington

George Washington has had at least three official birthdays. He was born Feb. 11, 1731. But that was according to the Julian calendar used at the time. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted, his birthday was recorded as Feb. 22, 1732. (Read about how the calendar was changed if you’ve never learned this.)

President Chester Arthur renamed Washington’s official birthday Presidents Day in 1885. Then in 1968, the Unified Monday Holiday Act was passed and became law in 1971. The act moved certain public holidays to Mondays to create three-day weekends, and the third Monday in February became the day for Washington’s celebration (and an extra day off work). In 2021, Washington’s birthday is observed on Feb. 15.

Glass Works Auctions sold the amber “Simon’s Centennial Bitters, Trade Mark” bottle at their auction for $2,640. It is shaped like the bust of President Washington with the product name embossed on the front below a large, round label panel.

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Q: Is there a market for new, unused Woodstock tickets from 1969? We found some in the wall of an old house on our former property in New York, not far from Bethel.

A: The three-day Woodstock Music and Art Fair was originally intended to be held in Woodstock, New York, in August 1969. After objections were raised, the organizers moved the event three times until they were finally able to rent a farmer’s field in Bethel, New York. Tickets sold in advance were $6 per day or $18 for a three-day ticket. Those sold on-site cost $8 or $24 for a three-day ticket. Unused tickets sell at auctions today for a few hundred dollars depending on their condition. A three-day ticket that was originally $18 sold at a recent auction for $250. A three-day ticket sold on-site for $24 auctioned for $500. There are a lot of fake tickets that are worthless, but there’s a good story behind your tickets that helps give them provenance and authenticity.

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Q: How can you tell if scrimshaw bookends are real or fake? My mother’s husband was from a rich family. She gave me a pair of scrimshaw bookends shaped like whale’s teeth. They’re painted with colorful birds on branches and the words “Indigo Bunting.” She was told they were real whale scrimshaw. Everyone involved has passed away, but I’d like to know if these are real and what they are worth.

A: Scrimshaw is whale’s tooth, bone or ivory carved by sailors during 19th-

century sailing ship days. Reproductions, fakes and modern scrimshaw have been made on bone, ivory or plastic. Some are so good only an expert can recognize the fake scrimshaw, but here are a few clues. The tip of an authentic whale’s tooth is yellowish and may have age lines. The patina is uneven and may be stained, while most fakes have even color and are whiter. The designs on real scrimshaw usually have a nautical theme and are scratched in, not painted. It used to be thought you could test for plastic by using a hot needle to pierce it, but this doesn’t work on newer materials. If you can see the hole in the bottom of the tooth and it’s not rough, you have a plastic copy. An expert would need to see the bookends to determine authenticity and value.

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Q: I have a Fiestaware mug that has a picture of Porky Pig on the side. When was it made?

A: Homer Laughlin made special Fiesta dishes with decals of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters. The dishes were sold at Warner Bros. Studio stores. They were not a success, so the dishes were made for only a short time, the late 1980s to early 1990s. The stores closed in 2001. Some of the characters on the decals were Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Scooby Doo, Sylvester and Tweety Bird. The mugs sell online today for $15.

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Q: I have a set of dishes I think my parents used in their restaurant. It’s supposed to be a set of 12, but I’m missing one or two due to breakage. They are heavy and white with a green band around the rim and a big white gardenia in the middle. They are marked “Syracuse China, U.S.A.” I think they’re more than 100 years old. I’d like to know what I can get for them if I decide to part with them.

A: The Onondaga Pottery of Syracuse, New York, began making Syracuse China in 1893. The name of the pottery became the Syracuse China Company in 1966. Syracuse China closed in 2009. The company was known for its restaurant china, which was heavier than its fine dinnerware. Syracuse made several patterns with a white gardenia center. Dishes were marked with a code indicating the year the piece was made. The date code was impressed in a circle before 1911 and in a diamond after 1911. An ink-stamped code in a diamond was used after the 1920s. You can find a list of Syracuse date codes online. Sets of dishes are hard to sell. Most antiques stores and consignment shops don’t want them. And you don’t have a complete set, which makes them harder to sell. You can donate them to a charity and take the tax deduction. It’s often up to the charity to set the price.

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